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we are so grateful that you would take your time to be with us. welcome to alabama. if you ever want to come back and hunt deer were birds, i'm sure there are any number of people here who can help you do that. >> i also want to thank you and your family for making this occasion possible. i do think all of our guests for being with us today. thank you very much. >> thank you very much. again i want to thank everybody here and to thank you judge. know how important law school is and how generosity like yours can make it -- i'm very appreciative of what you have done for the university of alabama law school. i'm sure they tell you this all the time, but to hear from another dean, gifts like yours and support like yours make an enormous difference to a place like this. thank you. >> thank you very much. you certainly honored us with your presence. i enjoyed the conversation very much.
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>> will you join me in thanking justice kagan? [applause] >> thank you very much. [applause] >> tomorrow on c-span epa administrator talks about cooperation tweeb the u.s. and china over policies related to the environment and climate. her remarks come at the center for american progress live at 10:30 a.m. eastern. a speech about american education policy in connecticut. >> on august 9, 1974 vice president ford was sworn in as president of the united states. this is the dress that ms. ford
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was wearing at the swearing in ceremony. she was less than excited about becoming first lady but president ford encouraged her saying we can do this. she resolved if i have to do this, i'm going to have fun doing it. within 10-days she had a state dinner to entertain king hussein of jordan. she had to prepare for that as her role of first lady and she hit the ground running. first lady betty ford monday night at 9:00 eastern. >> next is constitution and role judges with supreme court thomas. this is from the 2013 lawyer's convention in washington, d.c. it's a little less than an hour.
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>> thank you, david. could evening, everyone. it is my great honor and pleasure to introduce our distinguished guest this evening. although much of what i might say by way of introduction is no doubt familiar to all of you. justice clarence thomas has served with great distinction on the united states supreme court for more than two decades now. he has been a friend of the federalist society for so long that most of you in this room lready know him very well. but i think it is right for us to recall the extraordinary path that he traveled to reach the nation's highest court. not for what it tells us about him, but for what it tells us about our country. justice thomas himself put it in his remarkable memoir. i have never doubted the
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reatness of a country in which a person like me could travel all the way from georgia to our nations capital." clarence thomas has dissented from west african slaves who worked at a plantation in georgia. he was born in pinpoint, a tiny settlement near savannah, into circumstances of extreme poverty and deprivation. here was no running water in the shanty where he lived. and only a single electric light. his father abandoned the family. when he was six, the house burned down and his mother moved with clarence and his brother to a squalid tenement in savanna, where the living conditions were deplorable and there was a shortage of food. his mother could not raise the
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boys on the $10 per week she earned as a housekeeper. and clarence was seven, he and his younger brother were sent to live with their grandparents. their influence on him, especially that of his grandfather, myers anderson, was life-changing. as told in his wonderful memoir, his grandfather's self-reliance and ethic of hard work and personal responsibility, his insistence on the importance of education, and his personal dignity and strength in the face of the injustices of the segregated south taught our supreme court justice everything e needed to know to meet the challenges and opportunities that were ahead of him. the sisters at saint benedict and saint pius added a few hings too. initially, young clarence thomas was called to the priesthood and he entered the seminary. the call gradually lost its strength and eight cool and bigoted comment by another extinguished. he enrolled at holy cross college. yeah law school came next.
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after earning the elite degree, he had difficulty finding a big-city law firm job. so he accepted an offer from the attorney general of missouri and served as an assistant attorney general in jefferson city from 1974-1977. after a brief stint in corporate law, he followed the then senator danforth to washington dc, just in time for the reagan revolution. over the next dozen years, terrence thomas served in all three branches of government as a legislative aide to senator danforth, as chairman of the equal opportunity employment commission, and circuit judge on the united states court of appeals for the d c circuit. along the way, he met and married virginia, his oulmate.
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in 1991, he was appointed to this agreement court by president george h.w. bush. by this time, he had emerged as an outspoken conservative. so the confirmation process exacted a personal toll. by following the example of his grandfather, he persevered. and our nation is very fortunate that he did. on the court, justice thomas has been a steady and committed originalist, playing a pivotal role in the recovery and restoration of the original method of constitutional interpretation. he has made substantial and important contributions to our law. both in his opinions for the courts and when writing separately. perhaps most notably in the areas of federalism and the federation of power. the jurisprudence of protection and the guarantee of trial by jury. and the law of free political
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speech. his opinions reflect a deeper appreciation for the liberty-protecting structure of our constitutional system. he has advanced in understanding in the constitution, informed by the vital truths expressed in the declaration of independence, connecting our political and derivative documents. his personal fortitude is example to all who withstand the principal. please join me in welcoming clarence thomas. [applause]
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good evening and it is so good o see you again. [laughter] he was really loose at the table so i think this is going to be a ot of fun. >> thank you, thank you. >> as i talked about in the introduction, your path to the court is a remarkable american story. i would like to begin our discussion in the middle of the story with your decision to go to law school. that was your genesis or the genesis of your journey in the law. you went to seminary and were a student at holy cross. it was the late 1960s, a very turbulent time for our country. you decided to go to law school. you are accepted at some of the best law schools in the country. if i recall, you turn down harvard law school in favor of
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yale because harvard was too big and too conservative. i get the big part. but the conservative part, i think you have to explain. >> first of all, thank you for the introduction. i should just quit while i was ahead. this is really embarrassing. there is a lot of attention on me and it makes me uncomfortable. but you know, i think when you come up from a part of the country and you are in new england, there are a lot of things that are happening. i had quit the seminary, the only dream i had ever really had. i have been a devout catholic,
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an altar boy, and i eschewed all of those things in 1968. like most kids, you eschew hings. everyone thinks they have a vocation, if you are in the convent or trying to be a priest. that is the orientation. i thought that law would be a substitute vocation, something similar to the priesthood, where you did well so that you could do good, so that you could go back home and do the right thing. that was all there was to it. now that is about as deep as it got. this was 1968, 1969. woodstock is going on. that can be considered in the very same thinking.
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>> you were something of a campus radical, weren't you? >> yes but i wasn't a dope head. > i'm glad to hear that. >> the 60s were different. there were a lot of things [laughter] happening involving breaking down the structure in society. i was suddenly out of the seminary and in new england. there were no rules. things were falling apart. without structure, it is very difficult to navigate. i was extremely fortunate to be at holy cross. i was extremely fortunate to still have had a residual of the
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way i was raised and the structure that the nuns had given me, the structure that the seminary had given me. i was also extremely fortunate because i had already been in predominantly white schools. i was the only black in my high school in savannah. a transition to a school with very few blacks and a very difficult set of circumstances otherwise, i had sort of a jumpstart. i was ahead of the game. i had something. it allowed me to continue to do well even though it was very difficult. i do want to get to harvard. i do not want to get lost in that. i was a bit of a radical. that is what happens back then. you were black and things were changing. we were very upset. that changed at a riot in harvard square, where i finally realized, this is going too
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far. this hatred that, as my grandfather would often tell me when he saw me, you were not raised to be that way. i can give you the exact date. the road to damascus date was the morning of april 16, 1970, the day after harry blackmun was announced for the supreme court. we were in the newspaper. that is how i knew. [laughter] so having come back from the riot at harvard square, i am not understanding exactly what i had just done. i stood in front of the chapel at holy cross and that is where made a promise to god that if
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he could help me get this hatred out of my heart, i would never hate again. it is sort of ironic when i hear people trying to tell me that i am supposed to be overwhelmingly race-conscious and have this sense of get even. a sort of effort to get even in my life. that is the opposite of the way i was raised. that is the opposite of what we believed in. it was the opposite of the deal i made with god on april 16, 1970. with respect to harvard, harvard was a dream. i had no plans. what do i know about harvard? i am from georgia. if someone said to me, that is as impossible as harvard, i would've just laughed. that was a reach for me. ut i was confused.
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we are meeting at the radical bookstore and wondering why the fbi was looking at us. you meet at a store with a little red book behind you. other people might be interested in what you're doing. and they are not all called nsa. [laughter] but at any rate, i was accepted, to my surprise. and i went to cambridge and i remember that there were a lot of people in the law school and it was very confusing. i escaped from that madness. it was sort of like the scene that you see in "the stranger." having this weird experience out there.
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that is what happened to me at harvard. i became like breathless, a panic attack. i got back to holy cross and said, there is no way i can go there. it is big and all these people are walking around dressed up like they were going into the corporate world. back then, we were anti-corporations. i decided to go to penn. i had not been accepted at yale. i was going to go to penn law chool. yale sent me, you knew you were accepted if they sent you a big packet of materials. yale sent me the thinnest of letters. we are not into the catalog thing. we are yale. [laughter] not only that, but they sent it to my grandparents in georgia, who never open my mail because they could not read what was in it.
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so they never looked at it. they essentially sent it to me, so i get this hidden letter from ale. i went to yale and quite frankly, as bad as the things are that i may have said about yale, the experience was very beneficial to me. [applause] >> what were you hoping to do with your law degree? >> go to savannah, georgia. that is my number one dream. i was going to become a priest to go and help. i was going to become a lawyer to go and help. it was that simple. i could not get a job in my state of georgia. it was that simple. some people make it very complicated. i could not get a job. i look at the firms in atlanta, lots of places.
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i got zero job offers. jack danforth, a good man. the biggest problem i had with him was he was a republican. [laughter] but i got over it when i only had one job offer. [applause] >> tell us about what the first job meant to you and your future. >> it was the best job i ever had. i learned things from jack anforth. i learned that you do not judge people or use labels, a republican versus this or that. i also learned that you can treat people fairly and be decent and honest with everybody. he was always absolutely honest and ethical. watching him be that way, you learn how to be that way with others. he was a compassionate man also. e was very good to me.
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every day, i thank god that along the way -- again, remember, i had absolutely no one to give me guidance. i thank god that i met so many good people. my years at elc, being protected by people) hatch and strom thurmond. i did not know strom hurmond. but i had over 60 hearings and some of those were pretty brutal. every time, the people i could count on in the senate were orrin hatch and strom hurmond. [applause] in any case, that job meant everything to me because it was a model for how i would conduct myself and what to expect in the future. >> let's talk about your decision to come to d.c. in 1979.
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at that point, a major political shift was underway. what is now called the conservative legal movement came just a few years later. when you came here, your arrival coincided with this shift. it was that just a coincidence? or did you come with an affinity for the legal ideas? >> i was trying to get to savannah. i was getting promoted in a job that was a fine job with good people. that is not why i went to law school. as i said then, i was beginning to feel the golden handcuffs. and i wanted out. so i quit my job and i thought about it, i quit my job in 1979. i was 31 years old. packed up the u-haul to move, and fortuitously, again, good
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people looking out for me. senator danforth offered me a job. so i came here. and then i was going to savannah. one thing led to another and i wound up on the court. [laughter] [applause] honestly, people come up with all of these things. i love people with bad intent who write these things, how you did this or how you did that. it was totally forrest gump. i did my job and i showed up in pictures. one day, i showed up in the supreme court. [applause] >> i wish i could give you a better story than that. >> there must have been people you turn to. >> i met her in 1986 and that
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was the beginning of me going back to things that were most important in my life. and we prayed about everything that happened. ood people who believed in me, like president bush. i did not know president bush when he nominated me. my good friend, ricky silverman, insisted that i think about it. [applause] larry silverman counseled me bout it. at every turn, and it will probably be boring to you all because my life is pretty boring, there were a series of good people who showed up. one of the things that became a priority, if you talk to people who come to new places and they do not have family, you can ask anyone in this room who does not have a structured family, you
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begin to assemble a family. that was the source of my difficulty with yale. yale had become the only family that i had. at a critical juncture, they abandoned me. that was the big problem. at every point, you build a family. the people i just mentioned to you became a sort of substitute family. think about it. my wife goes with me -- my wife nd i are really close. [laughter] we spend a lot of time together. we go down to savannah and she sees the family and it is the pathology, in many ways, of the social experiments of the 1960s.
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my grandparents are gone, that anchor is gone. i am sort of without that base. i am sort of without that base. you look for people to fill that in. the people who i just mentioned to you, who gave me that guidance and became that substitute family, it was very important to me. i always think that i am blessed because god has sent all of these good people. he sent my wife. my wife is a gift that i prayed for in the 1980s. i got to the court and my friend, justice scalia, was there. and it was a godsend. we quickly became friends and he looked out for me, that sort of thing. just the way orrin hatch and strom thurmond looked out for me or that jack danforth looked out
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and for me. >> let's turn to your time on the court. three weeks ago, you market your 22nd anniversary. >> i did. [applause] oh, my goodness. >> i did not need to look that up because i have my own personal marker. my son alex, who is with me here today, was born two days after you took your seat on the court. he is my own personal marker of your anniversary. >> i hope you did not waste any of your time watching my ordeal. >> he was two weeks late. >> at least that sort of kept your mind off that. [laughter] i am trying to look for the good side of that. >> if you would, share a few in a thoughts on your initial transition to the court. as how did you get your bearings on the court?
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andd you and you and you you how did you and learn the ways of the court? >> first of all, a came through the d c circuit. the people there were fabulous, a absolutely fabulous. i got advice from a good friend, larry silverman, who was just a wonderful mentor on the d c circuit for the entire 15 months. [laughter] and he continued to be a friend afterwards. when i got to the court, i was enormously blessed. byron white was still there. but my closest ally and friend when i got there was justice scalia. [applause] at the expense of embarrassing him or the risk of embarrassing him, as beat up as i was when i got there with the workload, i do not know how i would have
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gotten through it if he had not been there. he became, quickly, a friend. he began family. he and maureen just became -- you know what? it was not that we always agreed on every case, but we agreed quite a bit. it was that i could count on him and i could trust him. i could go and talk to him. there were days when i was getting beat up and he was a friend and a colleague. but oftentimes, a friend. he was very kind to me. and first ----
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those on the court were delightful to me. chief justice rehnquist, justice marshall, all of them, justice brennan. they all gave me sage advice, but in the end, the closest person who made it doable was justice scalia. >> tell us what has changed during your 10 years on the court. >> i am older. [laughter] you know, it is really interesting. i have to take my hat off to people like john stevens, people who have been there a long time. after you have been there a while, you sort of come of age and get used to that. then it changes. new colleagues come on and you make adjustments and it is a family. it is a different court. they are good people, all of them. i have been enormously fortunate.
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justice alito is there now and we were at yale together. [applause] he and martha ann have become family. you meet new people and you get new colleagues and friends. but i have to say that, with all of that, i look back on the days that i came of age as the years that i will treasure. they were really, really hard. i feel like you take justice scalia and we were in the trenches together. you learn a lot and you treasure now the moment, but you really look back at those days as the critical days. i have been there so long now and seen a lot. back then, you were quite fresh
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and you are a novice. >> has the style of the presentation of the cases changed at all? >> there are a lot of briefs and people have done a lot of talking. [laughter] [applause] i mean, it is law. i must say, when i went on the court, i resisted being a judge. that is not what i would have picked in my life. but it is your j-o-b, so you do it. now you get to a point and you see it. it is, this is what you're called to do. this is what i do. it is not that the words have changed, but the way you read them, the way you absorb them.
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i never thought that i would treasure doing my job. i have reached that point. even the most boring cases are fascinating. one of my clerks today was saying to me -- i was reading some draft opinions and he said, you need to put on your green eye shades. i said, i think it is fascinating. i think he wanted some medication for that. [laughter] but i have gotten to a point where it is like the priesthood. this is what i was called to do. i would not say enjoy, but i love what i do. [applause] >> some things, two observers from the outside, have definitely changed that the supreme court.
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we had the rise of the specialty supreme court bar, of course. i do not know if that has changed the way, the quality of the oral arguments. >> it is like the gargoyles or something. they are not all that bad. [laughter] i do not know the legal profession that well. i just show up and do my job. [laughter] >> something else has definitely changed, the kind and degree of attention that is paid to the court and its work. >> i do not follow the attention that is paid. >> we now have scotus blogs -- >> i know nothing about that. >> you do not read the new media? >> god, no. i try not to read anything about what we do, because i was there. [laughter] [applause]
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>> fair enough. >> i really don't. i do not read. that is just hearsay. >> we will move on. ok. >> i am sorry i am the way i am. [laughter] >> ok, moving on. i think it is fair to say that you are the most consistent originalist on the supreme court. >> i am. [laughter] he said i was a cold-blooded originalist or something. >> he says now he is a stout, hardened originalist. >> i am or he is? >> he is. >> he is a courageous originalist and a brilliant one. [applause] that is right.
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>> i think it is fair to say that you are the justice most willing to re-examine the precedents. >> it is because of my affinity for starry decisiveness. -- stare decisis. it is not enough to keep me from going to the constitution. [laughter] [applause] i guess they do not care much for it either. i do not mean to make light of it. >> and that is fine.
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i want to ask you about your approach to writing separately. you do write separately quite a bit. you sort your own path in those separate opinions. one of your separate opinions on the application of the sixth amendment to the jury trial rights, the sentencing facts, became the majority view of the court. others of your separate opinions may be less likely to command the majority view. >> maybe like a fine wine, it just needs aging. >> is that your philosophy of separate opinion making? >> eddie harlan took 60 years but he eventually won in plessy. >> you ask a very good question. i think that i may lose, but i
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think i am obligated and encouraged by my colleagues, if you believe that, you write it. i try not to do it in a way that is not polite or respectful, but i think that someone should have kept writing that segregation was wrong. [applause] regardless of what the precedent was, i think you have to say certain things. when i first went on the court, people thought that great people like bob bork and justice scalia, the originalist, everyone thought they were not a gimmick, but sort of an oddity.
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earlier, in the introduction and the speech by jean mayer, originalism is respected. so they had to do it. maybe in some of these other cases, we are obligated to say what we really think. in your job, you are more constrained. but you get cases of first impression. this precedent, perhaps, you might question. you feel obligated to say something. that is the way i feel. the other thing is that it was very unpleasant to, in my case, to go to the court, for a variety of reasons. when you go through that, you feel that you have your -- you have, you are obligated, with the blessings that you have, with the opportunities you have
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to do your job, to stand up for certain principles. i have to say, i hope -- i have been encouraged by my colleagues. they have never discouraged me. they have their approach and i have mine. and you know -- if you notice, in all of those cases, i try to do it with a certain degree of respect for my colleagues. maybe 100 years from now, someone will excavate it and say, this guy was out of his mind. i do not know. but i think -- i am one of these people who still remembers, as a little kid, standing in the schoolyard and saying the pledge of allegiance. little black kids at an all- black school, every morning, saying the pledge of allegiance. who remembers watching tv sign
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offs at night with the national anthem. and high flight, which you can see on youtube now. i still get goosebumps from these things. i still believe in this stuff. i still believe in the constitution. it means more to me than an academic document. it is really important. i feel obligated that the opportunity that i am given to be there, to try to get it right. it is just an opinion. but if you have it, i think you are obligated to say what it is and why. if you look like a fool, so what? that is the reason you do litany of humility. you do not worry about it. you are humble enough to know that perhaps you run the risk of not necessarily looking like the
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most acceptable person. >> you described having a sense of the weight of history of what you do and the duty and obligation of the job to get it right every time. on a lighter note, i want to ask you how you escape it weightiness of your job and the cloister of the courts. let's talk about the venerable practice at the supreme court known as the summer recess. you are, as i understand it, a famously collegial group of justices. there are no scorpions in a bottle on this court. all of those really hard and closely-divided cases at the end of the term must produce some frayed nerves and the need to separate for a while. is that fair? >> i never have a problem with it. i mean, you know, i do not know.
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i did not ever have a problem with it. [laughter] >> i get out of there as soon as i can. [laughter] >> the truth is that, actually, we always have a very pleasant visit before the term. there are some people that you want to take your leave from at the end. >> you have a different way of unwinding over the summer recess. some of your colleagues retreat to teaching excursions in europe and so forth. you have a very different style. >> i go to europe sometimes, only to come back. [laughter] i would not be characterized as
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a europhile. i like the united states. [applause] i have nothing against the other countries, but i love the united states. i love this place. i cannot get back quick enough. i am not really anxious to leave. and about the cloistered life, i love the cloistered life. i was in the seminary, you know? i enjoy going in. one of my colleagues called me brother clarence. i love that. i love my law clerks. i love the work that i get to do. it is just wonderful. think about it. every day, i go in and have this wonderful opportunity to do this job. i cannot say that is the way i
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felt at the beginning, but that is the way i am now. i feel blessed every day to have the chance, one more day, to go in and be a part of it. i do not care how hard it is. this is not nearly as hard as being in the field. this is not nearly as hard as picking beans or stripping fodder or powers. you walk behind a horse in that georgia sun and you do roofing work or sewer work. this is a calling. this is not that bad. [laughter] how can you complain? we get a chance to do what we get a chance to do, i love the people i work with, i love seeing them. some days are better than others.
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i'm next door to my colleague, justice scalia, my friend, i hear his voice in the hall or something. these are my friends. >> talk about your relationship with your law clerks. >> i love my law clerks. i absolutely love my law clerks. i told you before, i have to pick my family. these kids are my family. >> how do you go about choosing them? >> pretty arbitrarily. [laughter] i do not want you to think that i just randomly hired them. i rely on people i trust. the other judges, good friends, clerks. i have taken clerks from friends like larry silverman, steve williams, people i know, edith jones.
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just lots of judges i know, people who will call me and say, this is a good person. they know that i do not care which school they went to. it could be lsu or yale. i hire a small percentage from the ivy's. i hire quite a few more from the non-ivy's, simply because they are smart kids. i try to take them from the south. my part of the country. i prefer kids who come from modest circumstances, whose parents did not have all of the benefits or advantages. that is just a preference. i am not going to bring kids in who disagree on printable's. i am not interested in arguing about that sort of stuff. i like kids who are not jerks.
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[laughter] i require kids to work together and i do not need all of that disruption in my chamber. i have been enormously blessed with the kids i have had. very smart, very pleasant, very hard-working. they've brought joy to my life. tomorrow, i will have lunch with about 35. we have monthly lunches. that is one of the monthly high points for me, to see my kids and to see how well they are doing. >> i understand that you take a pilgrimage to gettysburg every year with your law clerks. >> those poor kids, i drag them there. i take them on my bus. i love going to gettysburg. at the end of the term, i think people tend to be a little jaded and a little upset about things.
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i am more of an idealist than i was before i took the job. i want them, after they see a term, i want them to go to gettysburg and think about the price that was paid for this country to exist. thanks to martha ann alito, we saw the wounded warriors today. [applause] it is one of the most heartfelt things that i have ever done, to see young people who have been mortally wounded in the sense of of -- in defense of this nation. it is hard to see them and not believe that we are doing -- that we have an obligation to continue to do the right thing. what i am trying to do in taking my clerks to gettysburg is to
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think about lincoln and that horrible war, the carnage that took place at gettysburg. think of all the animals that were killed, all of the human beings, all of the destruction that occurred there. three or four months later, november 19, to dedicate a 4- minute speech or whatever it was, and the things that he said to elevate that tragic moment, and what i am trying to get these kids to understand, after they see a term, after they see the imperfections, that they still believe. that they are still idealistic. even with the reality, they still believe that this is important and they understand why. so we go and i drag them across the battlefield. i don't feel all that bad about it. the point is simply to pull
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it all back together after you see how the sausage is made. that you still believe that it is all worthwhile. [applause] >> of course, next week, we will be celebrating the 150th anniversary of the gettysburg address. i do not know if you have some final thoughts on what lincoln's words meant to the country than and what they mean to us now. >> first of all, i would like to thank you and i would like to thank you all for staying so late. [applause] very briefly, lincoln's words mean a lot to me personally because he was a great emancipator. i happen to be from the slaves that were affected after the emancipation proclamation. also, i have to say that what lincoln had to say w

Textualism and the Role of Judges
CSPAN December 2, 2013 1:35am-2:26am EST

Series/Special. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas speaks at the Federalist Society's National Lawyers Convention in Washington, DC. (Stereo)

TOPIC FREQUENCY Us 7, Georgia 6, Savannah 6, Lincoln 4, Danforth 3, Larry Silverman 3, United States 3, Clarence 3, Clarence Thomas 3, Penn 2, D.c. 2, Europe 2, Jack Danforth 2, Strom Thurmond 2, Alabama 2, Strom Hurmond 2, New England 2, Orrin Hatch 2, Edith Jones 1, Martha Ann Alito 1
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